Monday, January 09, 2006

It sometimes seems to me that one advantage, if you will, of being Catholic in 21st century America is that there is never a shortage of lessons on how we can not be of this world, even while we're in it, just so long as we're willing to look. I know Evangelicals also are keen on counterculturalism, so maybe I'll appeal to them, and maybe some folks in between, too, for once.

I used to take a more fatalistic view about the direction our society's taking, with the promotion of libertine lifestyles and what would be called socio-political revisionist history (try not to read too much paranoia into that phrase) if only it had any context, and whatnot. I always planned on doing my part to stem the tide, but I couldn't see any way to repair the damage, short of an overt and obvious act of God or something like starting over from scratch after the fall of some imperial civilization. Since I didn't think I could do much more than lament the global problems and try to manage the local ones, I didn't pay much attention.

More recently, I have begun to see things through more Catholic eyes. I'm not sure that my perspective has really changed much, but some things seem just a little clearer than they used to. Not everything, though, and not always, and I'm still not sure what I can do about it other than my original plan to just try to tidy up my little corner of the world, although I guess I can write about it a little, since I've got this venue and all. Well, most of what follows is pretty lame by itself, but more evidence would probably be easy to dig up.

I saw part of a interview on television a few months ago with an actress whose career appears to be past its prime. She may have been pimping some new project, but since she's been mostly off the radar for a number of years--a number of TV specials that didn't get much attention, which may or may not be a bad thing--there was the usual gamut of questions about what she's been up to in the meantime. Since it was entertainment news, personal questions were asked and intimate answers were given, such as about her latest beau. I only remember part of a comment she made about her dating patterns: "If the sex is good, I'm like his wife; I'll stick by him." Something to that effect, anyway. I got tired of the show and didn't wait long before going to find something more compelling on any of the other channels.

For a moment, though, I felt a little relief that there was still someone out there who had retained a shred of the concept of fidelity, but then it struck me how pathetic it was to be celebrating such a superficial attitude toward love.

Oh, I'm glad we're still dimly aware of virtue, but are we this dim?

I've started seeing a commercial on TV that can serve as a different example. When I first saw it, it took me just over two seconds of watching an attractive young woman kissing a young man, presumably attractive, through a chain link fence, to figure that it was a Trojan condom advertisement. I have to give them props for being clever, I will say that much. In fact, at the risk of heaping too many accolades on them, I'll also say I was glad to see them citing abstinence in the ad's subtitles as an effective strategy to prevent STDs, as well as reminding the viewer that STDs left unchecked deprive many people of the joys of parenthood. All else aside, if people start thinking ahead more about anything, even if it's just a little further than their own skin, I consider it a small victory.

There was still a tragic element, though, that not long ago I was not perceptive enough to recognize. Kissing a loved one through a fence isn't romantic (well, maybe for some tastes), it's an act of desperation. Okay, there is something romantic about love not being quenched by adversity, like when you can't be with the one you love because of circumstances, such as Romeo and Juliet, or like when Miss Piggy and Kermit kiss through the barrier after Kermit's arrested in whichever Muppet film it was, but it's still a compromise of sorts, an acceptance of less than what should be because of mitigating circumstances. I looked at the couple, in a willfully handicapped embrace, and I saw a dysfunctional relationship, another dysfunctional attitude. I'm not sure Trojan really saw the depth of the imagery here; they probably hardly even see this dimension, despite the verbiage. What does the fence mean? "I'm really into you, but there are things I will not share with you, so when we become intimate, let's set up some internal barriers that will stunt our collective emotional development, but pretend they're not influencing the dynamics of our relationship." It's not just protecting yourself from disease; it's also protecting yourself from the one you love. So much for tearing down your inner walls and connecting to people in a healthful way. Aren't we supposed to be sitting down and talking our feelings out more, these days?

In that spirit, I think the next time I meet a girl I'm interested in, I'll refrain from giving her my name, so she won't be surprised when I withhold things later...say, when we start discussing our feelings, if things get that far; I'll not use verbs, so she won't be able to understand anything that she doesn't want to think about at this time in her life, like how much time she wasted with a guy she suddenly thinks she can't trust because she never knew me in the first place. I'd only be protecting her, you see. Less emotional commitment makes for a less emotional breakup. If she doesn't know my name, after I hurt her (but just a little!) and leave her, it'll be easier for her to forget me.

Just trying to be prudent, you see. Is prudence not a virtue? What do you mean, developing a healthy environment for children is more than just an exercise in prudence? What do children have to do with anything?

I could sure go for some doughnuts right about now.

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